Despite Restrictions and Voter Suppression, African Americans Carry Alabama Forward

There was a morbid thought during the special election on December 12th, that Alabama would elect an accused pedophile, anti-gay and anti-abortion as Senator to replace Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions. As election results trickled in, it seemed that Alabamians would do just that; but in a surprise upset, Doug Jones won a senate seat that has not been occupied by a Democrat since 1992, and that was all thanks to Black women and Black men.

To say that African Americans faced an uphill battle getting to the polls is an understatement. As the election wore on, reports of voter suppression came in droves. By 3:24 pm, The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law voter hotline had received 235 calls. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund began collecting reports about people being put on inactive status, and either prevented from voting or given provisional ballots to cast their vote. To deter people from voting, police began showing up at polling stations, most notably in Montgomery, where in previous elections police checked voters for outstanding warrants.

Those were just the obstacles on election day. In 2011, Alabama passed one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country. Voters must have at least one of several specific kinds of photo ID to cast their ballot, including;

  • Driver’s License;
  • Non-Driver ID;
  • US Passport;
  • Student or employee ID at a college or university in Alabama; or
  • Military or Tribal ID

Under the guise of stopping voter election fraud, which rarely occurs, these laws disproportionately impact Black voters, who are often likely to have the means to obtain a voter ID. Since 25% of Alabama’s electorate is Black and Black residents tend to vote Democrat, having proper IDs was going to be crucial in this race. In a close election, the turnout that is impacted by voter ID laws, reducing it by a percentage point or two, could have swung the race.

Despite restrictions and reports of voter suppression, African Americans went to the polls, and gave Jones the votes he needed to eke out a victory over Moore. Over 98% of Black women and 93% of Black men voted for Jones, It was Black women and Black men who handed Jones his victory. Despite his anti-gay, sexist, racist, and homophobic rhetoric, despite multiple women accusing him of molesting them when they were teenagers, Moore was still able to capture a very sizeable portion of the white women vote.

White women, at this point we need to decide, right now, whether we want to join Black women and men and fight back against racism and sexism in politics, and everywhere, or continuously fight to maintain our white privilege in the face of rising gender inequality. We should not be fighting to put a child predator in the Senate; there shouldn’t have been a chance that would have happened. The fact that some women had to struggle, internally, to vote against Moore is egregious. And yet, here we are.

To the Democratic Party, there needs to be some serious discussion on how to give full representative voices to African Americans and minorities other than praying that they pull through during elections and save us from falling further away from common decency. We only give our thanks and strength to minorities when it benefits us politically; we are no closer to passing a clean DREAM Act, despite the fact that Democrats overwhelming voted to fund the government while undocumented minorities face the threat of deportation. Black communities are still reeling from mandatory minimums and three strike laws that were a part of Democratic President Bill Clinton’s “Tough on Crime” agenda, ballooning the already rising prison population and moving us into being one of the largest jailers in the world, and those incarcerated are disproportionately African American women and men. If you want to thank a Black woman or Black man for their part in the defeat of a child molester (especially since white men and women weren’t motivated to do so), start by addressing the damage that has been done to Black communities, and work to give back to them.

Today, we should be feel victorious. Tomorrow we need to work harder.

Lisa McNair, sister of one of the four girls killed in the 1963 church bombing, hears the news

 

(Image Credit: The Washington Post) (Photo Credit: The Root / Mickey Welsh)

Justice for Retail Workers this Holiday Season!

Retail worker Moriah Larkins advocates for Fair Work Week

This year, many partook in Black Friday shopping sprees, mobbing stores with the hope of purchasing high-tech gifts at low prices. They stampeded through Wal Marts, malls and department stores, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. Too often, little regard is given to the retail workers who stock the goods, ring customers up, and are forced to hear the verbal abuse of consumers while barely make enough to survive.

Nearly 16 million people work in the retail industry in America, an industry that seems to be in decline, which has lost more than 100,000 jobs. Online retailing has gained in popularity, and Wall Street has called in massive debts from the retail industry. However, the retail industry is one of the leading employers of workers; one in ten people work in retail, and more stores opened than closed in 2017.

Meanwhile, upward mobility for retail workers is nearly impossible, and many do not make enough in a forty-hour workweek to survive. Many retail employees are part time. Only 8% of retail workers have full-time jobs, with health insurance, at least $15 an hour wage, and paid time off. One in three workers has not received a raise in two years, and only 18% of part time workers move into managerial roles.

Additionally, there are no formal schedules, so work hours and times are constantly fluctuating, with part time work ranging from 13-29 hour per week. Those employees lucky enough to move up in the chains only did so because they dedicated their lives to the impossibly fluctuating schedule, citing “open availability” as one of the main factors that led them to promotions.

Organizers have been fighting back against these precarious positions. The Fight for $15 has dedicated to policy and legislation that raises state and ultimately federal minimum wages to $15 an hour, lifting many part time workers out of poverty. There have also been victories in the fight for paid vacations, paid sick leave, and the right to a stable workweek.

Fair Work Week Laws would allow employees to know their schedules two weeks in advance, and require overtime pay for hours worked with less than 10 hours of rest between shift. It also gives employees the right to request a flexible work schedule. Fair flexibility means employees would have a say in the times that they would be working, not what employers define a “flexible”, meaning ready to work 24/7 and at a moment’s notice.

So, this holiday season, while some are mobbing stores and treating retail employees poorly, remember how hard those employees work, and though they might be fighting and winning fair pay and a fair workweek, they still have a long way to go to be paid equally and fairly for the work that they have to complete.

 

(Photo Credit: Annie Sciacca / East Bay Times)

Chicago hotel housekeepers say NO! to workplace harassment … and win!

Unite Here members celebrate passage of Chicago ordinance protecting hotel workers from sexual harassment

While celebrities and politicians being accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault has brought workplace harassment into the national conversation, low wage workers, such as hotel housekeepers face similar instances of harassment cleaning hotel rooms and hope the conversation will help to end the harassment they’ve been fighting for years. Much less attention has been paid to the abuses and harassment low wage workers face, especially in the hotel industry.

A minibar attendant at a Chicago hotel, Cecilia walked to a guest’s door and was let in to a man masturbating at his computer. Given the satisfied look on the man’s face, it was clear that he had planned the encounter. Another guest once answered her knock by opening the door naked. “I felt nasty,” Cecilia recalled, “You’d expect that to happen to people in a jail but not in regular work. I felt like crying.” One of Cecilia’s colleagues confided that a guest tried to embrace her while in his room. Cecilia had to escort the housekeeper to security to report the incident.

Harassment in the workplace is not a new, or one-time, occurrence for housekeepers, who face abuses but are unable to report for fear of retaliation from an already exploitative work environment. Maria Elena Durazo, of Unite Here, has advocated for housekeepers to be given handheld, wireless panic buttons that can alert hotel security when a worker feels threatened: “Frankly, I don’t think much of the public understands what housekeepers go through just to clean these rooms and carry out the work.” The union won workers’ contracts to include the panic button, but the situation of sexual harassment for housekeepers is still dire. Durazo is now lobbying the city council to mandate them for all workers, union or not.

The panic buttons go a long way for workers to feel safe, but the imbalance of economic power between the harasser and survivors cannot solely be addressed by buttons. As Durazo argues, “We have to do something to equalize the power so that women really have the ability to speak up, without having to risk their livelihood. That goes for whether you’re a housekeeper or a food server or a big-time actor.”

To bring attention to the harassment of hotel and casino workers, Unite Here surveyed 500 of its Chicago area members. The majority surveyed were Latinx and Asian immigrants.

  • Nearly 58 % of hotel workers and 77% of casino workers had been sexually harassment by a guest;
  • 49 % of hotel workers said they had experienced a guest exposing themselves to the worker when answering their room door;
  • 56 % of casino cocktail servers said a guest had touched them, or attempted to touch them, without their consent;
  • Around 40% of casino workers had been pressured for a date or sexual favors by a guest.

Outfitting housekeepers with panic buttons started to receive attention and popularity after French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn was accused of assaulting housekeeper Nafissatou Diallo in a New York Hotel. Tet next year, the New York Hotel Trades Council won a contract for 30,000 workers that guaranteed the use of panic buttons for housekeepers.

The Chicago campaign to mandate panic buttons for the hotel industry received little resistance from the hotel lobby. President of the Chicago Federation of Labor Jorge Ramirez stated. “We didn’t see them out there with pompoms, but they didn’t speak out against it, either. I think the industry would have a hard time opposing this, especially with everything that’s come to light in the last few months.”

To mark the passage of the ordinance for panic buttons, housekeepers wore “No Harveys in Chicago” T-shirts, hoping that the buttons bring a sense of security and safety to women like herself and the younger housekeeper she had helped a couple months prior, because, “You shouldn’t be scared to work.”

 

(Photo Credits: Chicago Sun-Times / Fran Spielman)

Children trafficked into domestic servitude in Zanzibar

Girls and women in a Zanzibari shelter

With the promises of better lives and opportunities for their children, parents are being tricked into sending their children to become domestic servants for various wealthy employers in Zanzibar. Unfortunately, the promise of wages and educational opportunities for children do not come to fruition, and many child domestic workers endure long hours, no salaries or education as promised, and have to endure slave-like working conditions.

Children like Rose became the victim of the traffic of girls into domestic servitude. With the promise of economic and educational opportunities in Zanzibar City, Rose left home to work in a wealthy family’s home. There she was subject to long hours of work, physical abuse, and inhuman punishments for not completing a job. For example, Rose was locked in a fetid, tiny outdoor latrine for more than 11 hours. She had not finished washing the dishes the night before.

Such stories are common among the children being trafficked in Tanzania to become servants and domestic laborers. Based on reports of child labor in Tanzania, 131,741 children are pushed into domestic servitude; girls constituted the majority of domestic work with 84.2% (110,911) of the total child laborers. According to the Tanzania Mainland National Child Labour Survey,

the most common risk facts that the children face include “long and tiring working days; use of toxic chemicals; carrying heavy loads; handling dangerous items such as knives, axes and hot pans; insufficient and inadequate food and accommodation, and humiliating or degrading treatment including physical and verbal violence, and sexual abuse.”

Some few, more fortunate children more fortunate work for families that treat them well enough, but most face a lifetime of abuse and exploitation. Rose’s story illustrates the abuse that most trafficked girls experience as domestic workers. The morning of her first day of work, she was beaten mercilessly by her employers. After similar and worse punishments, such as imprisonment in a latrine, Rose finally escaped to a shelter for trafficking victims.

Likewise, Rachel, a domestic laborer at 14 years old, was forced to work for 16 hours a day, doing everything from cleaning to childcare. Her employer beat her often and raped her frequently. Finally, Rachel escaped and found a shelter.

Because of outside pressure, Tanzania has begun to take the cases of trafficked children seriously, investigating 100 suspected trafficking cases in 2016. Nevertheless, there has been no headway into the agencies that bring the children to their employers. There is no sense of how to stop the flow of children from mainland Tanzania to Zanzibar. Further, no proper organization has helped reunite survivors with their parents nor does any organization formally help trafficked child domestic laborers escape from their employers. In Zanzibar, there is one offering protection for these children, and it has only ten beds. Meanwhile, the warnings from Rose and others like her have not hindered other children from following in her footsteps. Many more children are at risk of falling into the same trap of the promise of a better life, only to be pushed into slavery.

 

(Photo Credit: The Guardian / Rebecca Grant)

New Jerseyans Boot Trumpism out of the Garden State

Sheila Oliver and Phil Murphy

On November 7th, while watching the results of the Virginia election, long considered a litmus test for the midterm elections in 2018, another wave of elections returned complete control of New Jersey to the Democrats. It was a historic night for minorities and immigrants in the state, and a cautious tale for all Republicans to heed: if you think you can win elections on Trump rhetoric, fear mongering anti-immigrant racist and sexist policy, try again. Especially in a state that prides itself as being an immigrant state.

Fifteen minutes after the polls closed, New Jersey elected Democrat Phil Murphy as Governor, on the promise of passing a $15 an hour minimum wage hike, funding pensions for all state employees-which had stalled during the Christie administration along with a pay freeze on the state-creating a state bank, which would keep money in the community, and decriminalizing and regulating marijuana for recreational use. Murphy also promised to back a Millionaire’s Tax for the states’ wealthy individuals. Murphy’s running mate, Sheila Oliver, became New Jersey’s first Black woman to serve as Lieutenant Governor. While only time will tell if Murphy can make due on his promises, his embrace of a progressive agenda helped to bring him to victory.

Murphy’s opponent, Chris Christie’s Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, floundered to distance herself from the infamous Governor’s toxicity. Christie will leave office with a dismal approval rating in the teens, one of the least popular governors ever anywhere. On the last leg of her campaign, Guadagno took a page from Trump, targeting whatever anti-immigrant sentiment persists in the state. Pandering to what little base she could drum up, Guadagno ran ads blasting Murphy’s promise to make New Jersey a “sanctuary state” for undocumented immigrants (as if it was never the hub of immigration along with New York), with the threat that it would make New Jersey less safe.

It wasn’t the first attempt by New Jersey candidates to attempt to appeal to racist sentiment. Hoboken elected its very first Sikh mayor, Ravi Bhalla, despite flyers being plastered around the city demanding that citizens don’t vote to let “A TERRORIST overtake the town.”

Elsewhere, minorities made big gains in smaller elections, despite major pushback from Republicans. Edison’s schoolboard re-elected incumbents Jingwei “Jerry” Shi and Falguni Patel. They were also the victims of mailers decrying the diversifying schoolboard, asking voters to “Make Edison Great Again.” The outcry and pushback secured their election win.

Ashley Bennett, first-time candidate and Egg Harbor Township resident, defeated notorious Republican John Carman as Atlantic County Freeholder. Bennett was angered by Carman’s response to the Women’s March, when he asked whether the “protests would be ‘over in time for dinner.’” Carman later drew more criticism for wearing a patch with the state of New Jersey partially covered with the Confederate flag.

New Jersey is a prime example of the reason Republicans should be nervous about the upcoming midterm elections. Our disdain for Trumpism and our embrace of progressive policies serve warning to those NJ Republicans in the House. Most NJ Republicans have been embroiled in a tug of war; on one side, maintaining support for the Republican, and by extensionTrump’s, base, and on the other, a growing anti-Trump sentiment in comfortably Republican districts in the state. Frank LoBiondo, Representative of NJ’s 2nd Congressional District, has announced his retirement, putting the swing district in play. There is only a one-point advantage in the district, which Trump barely won in the first place.

Tom McArthur, House Representative for NJ’s 3rd Congressional District, has been lambasted in recent months for his support of the ACA repeal; the McArthur Amendment was one of the leading reasons that Trumpcare passed the House in the spring of 2017. Many have watched the impassioned town halls with him, having put families in danger from allowing states to opt out of covering people with pre-existing conditions.

Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ 11th) became notorious for subtly attacking a woman activist by penning a letter to her employer and forcing her resignation. Though there has been no formal reprimand, he was criticized for using his position to punish women who speak out against his policies and ideologies.

Finally, Representative Chris Smith (NJ 4th) has coasted on the obscurity of his ideology. Anti-choice, anti-LGBT, and completely distant from his constituents, Smith hasn’t hosted a town hall in twenty-five years (though demands to hold a town hall have been shared to his staff) and lives primarily in Virginia, so much so that his daughter was able to attend college paying in-state tuition in Virginia. He maintained a comfortable lead over many Democrats who opposed him throughout the years, mainly because of the obscurity of his policy agendas and labor support. Given the trends from the election results, he, and all politicians who thought they could ride on Trump’s coattails, should be very worried indeed.

Ashley Bennett

 

(Photo Credit 1: CNBC / Lucas Jackson / Reuters) (Photo Credit 2: Washington Post / Wayne Perry / AP)

Elder Care Workers in the United States Are Fighting for Justice

The aging of the largest generation in the United States, the Baby Boomers, is creating a desperate shortage for care workers for elders. By 2024, upstate New York will need 451,000 home health workers in 2024; currently the state employs 326,000. Already, the shortage is problematic for New York. For example, Rebecca Leahy of North Country Home Services reports that, every week, it is unable to provide a staggering 400 hours of homecare services which have been authorized by the state. Leahy explains, “My fear is that in the near future most patients in the three Adirondacks counties of Franklin, Essex, and Clinton could be without services because the sole provider for most of this region will not be able to cover payroll.” That would leave thousands of elders without the physical and emotional urgent care that they need.

The current trend, pushing us into a critical shortage of homecare workers, has been caused by the lack of well-paying jobs in the elder health-care industry. That lack creates a pool of continually underemployed workers. Upstate New York, and most of the country, consistently employs workers at wages and conditions that keep them in poverty, causing a high turnover rate of workers in a health industry that needs stability. Currently, the number of people in the United States over the age of 65 is expected to double. With the urgent and pervasive need for personal-care aids and home healthcare workers, employers and the state should provide jobs that give aids decent wages and benefits, including paid time off and health insurance.

Those benefits have not been procured by employees. Ai-jen Poo, Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, has highlighted the extreme precariousness and vulnerability in elder care workers. With an industry where 90% of workers are women, the majority women of color and 30-40% immigrants, the conditions are impossible, ‘The average income for home care-workers is $17,000 a year. The median income for an elder care-worker…is $13,000.” Additionally, according to Poo, because they are characterized as domestic workers, elder care workers don’t qualify for work protections such as “limits on hours and overtime pay, days off, health benefits and paid leave.” Workers are completely dedicated to the patient who needs care, but are unable to receive the benefits and pay they deserve, many taking care of our families and loved ones.

Nearly 75% of nursing home care and home health care is paid for through Medicaid and Medicare, where the reimbursement rate has stagnated for several years. With the Trump administration’s attempts to roll back expansions granted under the Affordable Care Act, those reimbursements are unlikely to increase any time soon.

The National Domestic Workers Alliance is one of the leading organizations in the United States working for the inclusion of domestic workers, which include elder care employees, into the Fair Labor Standards Act which guarantees workers a federal minimum wage, overtime, sick, and vacation pay.

Caring Across Generations is a coalition of more than 100 local, state, and national organizations, working towards a policy agenda which includes, “access to quality care, affordable home care for families and individuals, and better care jobs.” The organization lists four major proposals to help address the underemployment of homecare workers and the growing need for elder care services:

  1. Increase the national minimum wage floor for domestic workers to $15.00 per hour.
  2. Improve workforce training and career mobility to ensure quality.
  3. Develop a path to citizenships for undocumented caregivers.
  4. Create a national initiative to incentivize and recruit family caregivers into the paid workforce, since nearly 85% of long term care is provided by family members.

According to Ai-jen Poo, domestic workers, including elder care workers, “need fair wages, decent working conditions and access to reproductive health care, including abortions”. It seems a simple request, considering these workers provide physical, mental and emotional care for our elderly family members while sacrificing their time with their own families. Given the emerging crisis, the time to help these workers is now!

 

(Photo Credit: Caring Across Generations)

A Band-Aid on a Gaping Wound: Limits of the Law in Domestic Work in India

Domestic workers fighting abuse and slave-like conditions need legal protection. While India’s labor ministry has begun preparations to provide social security for domestic workers, further protections for workers to demand better treatment from their employers and justice for abuse and mistreatment are still needed.

Recent instances of severe abuse of domestic workers in India include a 26-year-old domestic worker from Bangladesh who was held captive by her employer, based on false accusations that she had stolen from them. She had not been paid in two months. Elsewhere, a domestic worker was tortured and then murdered by her employers, a legislator and his wife.

Even if workers organize and rights have been won, the threat of retaliation from employers remains. For example, domestic workers in a complex in Mumbai went on strike for their underpayment by employers. The, employers conceded defeat and then months later fired the maids.

Domestic workers are vulnerable because of their lack of other employment choices. According to social activist Pratchi Talwar, “Many resort to domestic work because of decline in employment opportunities in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors.”

A poll in India conducted about workplace harassment highlights domestic workers’ vulnerability, claiming that these women do not retaliate from employment abuses because of the fear of losing their jobs, fear of being stigmatized, the absence of a means of filing complaints at the workplace, and the lack of awareness about redressal mechanism. These reasons, and the lack of means to address these problems, produce a continued pool of workers vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment form their employers.

India’s labor ministry has begun the process of addressing the concerns over the mistreatment of domestic workers by defining domestic workers as workers and providing the legal protection and social security that comes with the new legal status. The introduction of the policy is intended to “set up an institutional mechanism for social security coverage, fair terms of employment, addressing grievances and resolving disputes.”

According to Sonia Rani, project coordinator of the Self-employed Women’s Association, “These are just guidelines which are not legally enforceable. What happens when there is sexual abuse, withholding salaries and denying leave? Can the workers go to court? There also has to be a non-negotiable salary regime.’

Domestic workers continue to experience higher turnover rates and can be fired at will because there is no legal protection and no national law documenting domestic work as work, giving them all the protections of workers from such legal status. There are only two laws in India concerning domestic workers, the Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act of 2008 and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act of 2013. Neither law recognizes domestic workers as having legal rights. Though India is a signatory to the International Labor Organization’s 189th convention on Domestic Workers, the country has not yet ratified it.

Policy shifts concerning domestic workers do not become concrete implemented law unless domestic workers are recognized as part of the labor force. Only when domestic work has been recognized as work can there be legal protections for women and girls employed as maids. Unions and organization have argued “that the mindset of regarding domestic workers must shift from a policy paradigm to one that focuses on workers’ rights. Only then, can domestic workers’ rights be defined and protected.” Until then, the actions are but a Band-Aid on a nationwide gaping wound.

 

(Photo Credit: PBS News Hour / YouTube) (Image Credit: The Economic Times)

Stop Punishing Poor Women’s Sexuality Through Abortion Bans!

Nearly 1 in 4 women under the age of 45 will have had an abortion. Women’s access to abortion continues to be a matter of contention between mostly white, mostly male, politicians who tout about the sanctity of life while simultaneously working to deny the benefits that women and children rely on to survive. Rather than help those children who rely on social assistance and the state for healthcare (literally by letting a program insuring 9 million children expire) and food, Congress has moved forward with a national ban on abortions past 20 weeks.

Anti-choice hypocrisy would rather claim that the rights “of a human being who has never taken a single breath a single breath are more important than the rights of the person with thoughts, a past, relationships and emotions that would be forced to renounce her bodily autonomy to accommodate the fetus.” The fight for a fetus’ life ends the moment a child is born; it does not continue as the child is raised, especially the fifteen million children who live in poverty in the United States.

Abortion bans are not implemented to curtail abortion rates. If one truly wishes to see the end of abortion, there would be universal access to various forms of birth control, along with comprehensive sexual education in public schools to help the decrease in teenage pregnancy rates; these methods have effectively helped to decrease the abortion rate, which occurred in 1 in 3 women in 2008. Abortion bans continue across the country because it is the state’s way of controlling women’s, especially poor women’s, sexuality. It is a method of punishing women’s sexual freedom, while make their struggle to survive ever more precarious. As Jon O’Brien, President of Catholics for Choice, noted, “When we take away a women’s choices about her own body, we hamper her ability to make sound decisions for her and her family. We force her into her tougher bargains to make ends meet. We threaten her capacity to thrive. We hurt her ability to raise children that are healthy and resilient. And we perpetuate cycles of poverty.”

That is what anti-choice men in power want: poor women forced to have children, forced to work nearly any wage to care for said children, to survive. A never-ending pool of desperate labor willing to work for scraps to avoid starvation, and then the continued reproduction of those poor pools of labor in the form of their children. Means of sustaining an exploitative capital regime hide under the guise of being pro-life.

A continued insistence on women’s necessity to remain chaste and virginal perpetuates the belief that women are only sexual for the sake of procreation, and never for pleasure. Harper’s Bazaar has the best response for the continued control of women’s decision to have sex for enjoyment:

“There are certainly going to be people who will reply to this by shouting, ‘then women should keep their damn legs shut.’ No. Go crawl back to the time capsule you came out of. 95 percent of Americans have pre-marital sex. 9 months of unwanted pain and possibly death is not an acceptable punishment for being unlucky while engaging in an almost universally practiced past time. It is the punishment for 0 percent of men, which is the correct percentage.”

Today, the United States has one of the highest maternal death rates in the world. We save the fetus to kill the woman. We proclaim the rights of the fetus’ “life” while exploiting and killing the poor women who are forced to bear it. That is not pro-life; that is anti-woman. When we scream “Never Again!”, we are not only demanding the protection of women to have a safe and legal abortion. We are protesting the desire to revert to a time when women died from illegal and dangerous abortions. And as our elected officials gleefully hinder the march of progress for women’s reproductive freedom, women and men everywhere should continue to raise their voices to make sure we hinder them every step of the way.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Rewire / Lauryn Gutierrez) (Photo Credit 2: Women’s Web)

Nancy Almorin Lubiano challenges Hong Kong’s live-In maid rule

 

For migrant domestic workers living in Hong Kong, live-in work continues to be one of the most precarious forms of work. In a new court hearing, lawyers for Nancy Almorin Lubiano, a domestic worker from the Philippines, are challenging Hong Kong’s live-in domestic rule that could affect her and 350,000 other women.

Lubiano’s lawyers are suggesting that the rule, put in place since 2003, is unconstitutional because “it heightened the risk of breaching the fundamental rights of helpers, violating international charters.”

Hong Kong’s regime originally had a more liberal stance for workers, which allowed domestic workers to provide outside living accommodations, so long as they had their employers’ permission. A year before the rule was put into place, of the city’s 200,000 maids, 100 worked as live-out employees.

Today, the rule that mandates live-in domestic help face the consequence of, “administrative sanctions in future applications for a visa or employment, and criminal prosecution over charges such as furnishing false information, which is punishable by a HK$150,000 fine and 14 years’ imprisonment.” Domestic workers face extreme precarity being forced to live in the home of their employers, always at the beck and call of their employers, and anyone attempting to flee a dangerous situation could be moved from one prison to the next.

For live-in domestic workers residing in Hong Kong, risk is ever present. According to Lubiano’s lawyers, “Key findings by Shieh included an average of 71.4 working hours per week, with more than one in three respondents deprived of their weekly 24-hor rest day as required by law. Another 40 per cent were deprived of independent rooms, some of them exposed to the rest of the household while sleeping in corridors, kitchens, and even beds above toilets.” Lubiano was given a 60 sq. ft. storeroom in a 640 sq. ft. flat shared with a family of three; because it was a storeroom Lubiano was never given privacy, since her employers had access to the room at all times. If maids in situations like Lubiano desired to leave an abusive employers, they would only have two weeks to find another employer before they are forced to leave the city.

The arguments made by Lubiano’s lawyer, Paul Shieh Shing-tai, calls the case “a challenge to the system…saying the government should not interfere with foreign maids’ private life just to achieve the purpose of monitoring and maintaining security.”

While the case is being heard by the courts, based solely on the constitutionality of the rule, the 350,000 domestic workers will live and work in a state of limbo, continuing to work in a state of insecurity. Reports illustrate that domestic workers are victims of “a range of exploitative practices that would meet the internationally recognized definitions of forced labour and trafficking.”

Lubiano and Shieh have a very narrow legal challenge for the live-in rule, as contended by Shieh himself, but the verdict of the rule has large implications for foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong. The ability to be given the choice to live out, as opposed to the powerlessness that some feel living in their employers’ home would mean the ability to have an escape from abuse and exploitation, and the end of a 24-hour on-call workday.

(Photo Credit: Hong Kong Free Press)

 

In Indonesia, education is the key for domestic workers’ empowerment

For many domestic workers, work is grueling and exploitative, with long hours and low pay. Some fight back. Others do not, feeling as if the life of a maid or domestic worker will forever mean unfair treatment and meager wages. Some are too afraid that they are replaceable and accept whatever is given to them. Others work because they believe they have no other form of education behind them with which to ask for raises or better treatment. Can domestic workers become empowered enough to fight for better wages and better working conditions, and if so, what are some of the ways they can organize?

Indonesian maids have illustrated one mode of organizing that leads to empowerment and courage to fight for better wages; education. In an attempt to combat the hostile working conditions, Indonesia has introduced a pilot training program which “aims to enhance domestic workers’ skills and win recognition for their work as a profession in a bid to fight exploitation and modern slavery.”

Indonesia remains a large provider of maids for countries such as a Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and the Middle East, while four million women are also employed within the countries as domestic workers as well. Though domestic work is one of the primary modes of employment for Indonesian women in the country, there is a larger chance for abuse for domestic workers laboring in Indonesia, because, “unlike their counterparts who work overseas, who must go through extensive training regulated by the government, there are no such provisions for local maids.” Thus, local domestic workers are in danger of exploitation and abuse, suffering from long work hours, withheld wages and a lack of formal contract, because the government does not recognize domestic work as formal work with labor protection form formal labor laws.

For women like Leni Suryani, the training program instilled the confidence to ask for a higher starting salary. As one of the first graduates of the program, “Suryani said she brushed up her skills on cooking different cuisines, housekeeping and childcare during her training, as well as learning English and using computers. At the end of the 200-hour course last year and after a test, she received a certificate given by a national professional certification board that recognized her skills.” With the certificate, she was empowered enough to negotiate a higher salary with an American family.

The International Labour Organization, which oversees the program, trains women in domestic work skills and educates them on workers’ rights so they can fight nearly slave-like conditions. Irfan Afandi, the program’s national advocacy specialist, highlighted the importance to empower women, even if it’s only with a certificate: “They think working from 6am to 8pm is normal and they should do anything they are told-from cooking to car washing and gardening. There is no clear scope of their job…They are confident because now they are professional domestic workers. They learnt the skills, it increases their employability and prospects for better work conditions.”

Training and being given such a certificate instills confidence and pride in work that is done. Like Suryani, it has empowered a once discouraged domestic worker into better wages and a better working situation. Education in workers’ rights and acquiring skill sets to help them improve the prospects empowers all marginalized women to resist falling into the trap of exploitation by means of instilling pride in domestic workers’ earned skill and labor.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Twitter) (Photo Credit 2: Twitter)